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Monthly Archives: January 2010

A number of people have asked for my reaction to the iPad.
I will skip over the name which I think is terrible.  iPad?  Really?
Apple gets credit on execution and good packaging of available technology.  That said, their thin slate is an unsurprising product in the context of an evolutionary timeline that spans decades of innovation and effort chasing the slate computing dream.
My perspective is also somewhat unique.
At WinHEC five years ago, Bill held up a non-functional model of “Haiku”.  It was a concept design effort that I had led as part of incubating ultra-mobile PC, and was aimed at illustrating the type of full-fidelity, device-like mobile PC design that would be achievable in the 5-6 year time frame.

Ultra-mobile PC concept circa 2004/2005

Some key attributes of the class of consumer slate PC envisioned: thin (under half an inch) pure slate form factor, all-day battery life, fully solid-state, fanless, always on/connected, LED-backlit display, WWAN capability, docking connector, pen+touch NUI, and a sub-$500 price point.
The Origami ultra-mobile PC effort made progress toward the “Haiku” end-state target, and among other things, created focus on touch as a primary form of display interaction and catalyzed the development of low-power, low-cost Atom CPUs and chipsets.  Those Atom CPUs were subsequently incorporated into small, low-cost laptop designs which Intel dubbed “netbooks” and sold like hotcakes.  The race chasing volume was on.  Building small, cheap laptops was easy and virtually guaranteed to achieve large volumes as an extension of a mainstream category.  By contrast, getting slate right required ongoing investment, and the slate category was still emerging.  The PC industry took the path of least resistance to large unit volumes.
Steve Jobs has said that he didn’t know how to build a cheap laptop that wasn’t junk.
His answer to a highly mobile computer at a reasonable price point that isn’t junk and isn’t a race to the bottom is a slate.
I agree with the logic.
As a device, the iPad seems somewhat large and ungainly to me.  With the 7”-display-based Haiku/Origami, I aimed for greater mobility in the tradeoff between mobility and display real estate.  Not having a way to write on a pure slate device the size of piece of paper also seems pretty unnatural to me.  One of the iPad demos shows a legal-pad background for note-taking, but then you have to use the on-screen keyboard.  Say what?  There’s a real cognitive disconnect there.  Of course, display size is highly subjective (hence the many variations in laptops) as is the relative importance of stylus functionality for different users and uses.  There is plenty of room for continued development of and innovation with the slate form factor, and it will be interesting to see how the industry responds to Apple’s interpretation.